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Archbishops make joint offer to Premier to ease Victoria's youth detention unrest

Melbourne's Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders express deep concern about youth justice crisis

By Mark Brolly

December 1 2016Melbourne’s Anglican and Roman Catholic archbishops have written to Premier Daniel Andrews, offering to increase chaplaincy and pastoral care services to children and young people in the care of the State in response to recent unrest in the youth justice system.

Archbishops Philip Freier and Denis Hart wrote on 29 November that they were taking the unusual step of writing jointly to Mr Andrews because they shared a deep concern about the welfare of children and young people in Victoria’s youth justice system.

The Government has gone back on a plan to transfer 40 juvenile offenders to a segregated wing of Barwon Prison, the only maximum security prison located outside Melbourne, while the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre in Parkville is repaired following the latest disturbance last month that caused up to $1 million in damage. There has also been unrest at Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre in central Victoria.

“While we understand that the Government has had to make an emergency response to recent unrest within the system we are gravely concerned that part of that response has resulted in children being transferred into the harshest of adult prison settings,” Dr Freier and Archbishop Hart wrote.

They said accommodating children within a maximum security adult prison would further isolate them, making visits from family members and friends and those involved in their education, health treatment and pastoral care fare more difficult. Even if, as stated, the particular unit in the prison was run by Youth Justice rather than Corrections Victoria staff, “there is no getting away from the fact that it will be a Corrections regime that polices the perimeters and the gateway into and out of the unit”.

“The whole environment, including buildings and fences, will be consistent with a maximum security prison designed to contain and manage serious adult offenders rather than work for the rehabilitation of impressionable children and young people.

“We are so concerned about the welfare of children who have been transferred to the maximum security adult prison at Barwon that we want you to know of our willingness to increase our provision of chaplaincy and pastoral care services to these most vulnerable and impressionable children and young people who are in the care of the State.”

The two archbishops welcomed the review of the youth justice system now being conducted and expressed their willingness to have the best resources of their churches available to help find the best outcomes for those involved in Victoria’s juvenile justice services. They urged strong engagement with the youth and family care sector and, in particular, commended Anglicare Victoria’s CEO, Mr Paul McDonald, and the Episcopal Vicar for Social Services in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, Fr Joe Caddy, as having much to offer the review.

“In closing, while we understand that there has been a need to make an emergency response to the current situation in the Youth Justice System, we urge you and your Government to find a more appropriate facility for these young people that will support their rehabilitation and ultimately reintegration into the community,” Dr Freier and Archbishop Hart wrote.

“We would be happy to meet with you to discuss with you these issues.”

 

See the full text of the Archbishops’ letter at http://melbournecatholic.org.au/Portals/0/Archbishops%20Joint%20Letter%20on%20Youth%20Justice.pdf